Enterprise Software

HTML5 vs. Flash: The state of the debate

Ryan Boudreaux looks at some of the latest browser support numbers for HTML5 and Flash. Are you a partisan for either? Here are Ryan's thoughts on the state of the Flash vs. HTML5 debate.

The battle lines were drawn years ago, and the war continues among the staunch Flash developers who maintain their SWF swords, versus the inspired early adopter web developers who strike blows with their <canvas>, <article>, <video>, and <audio> tags, incorporating HTML5 and CSS3 into their web implementations.

The infographic, partially shown below (Figure B), by OneMoreLevel.com depicts the two sides against each other with a bent toward the gaming development industry, which historically has showed the slowest adoption rate for HTML5 technologies. And it's no surprise that Flash wins out in most categories, with a just a couple undecided.

Figure B

While the gaming industry continues to rave about Flash, there are a growing number of developers who are making inroads to adopting HTML5, but which is right for you?

According to this Periscope infographic, partially displayed in Figure C, you can see that the numbers, in terms of browser support, show Flash is still the hands-down winner with 99% of browsers utilizing the technology. The graphic also shows that HTML5 has made a lot of progress to reach 50% browser support, a big 10% gain from an initial analysis conducted a year ago. HTML5 is making consistent headway with adoption rates among browsers including mobile devices. There  is some debate on how the final statistics were calculated, however, as some commenters speculate that the total browser support for HTML5 may be more along the lines of 75% when you include partial support for certain elements of the technology.

Figure C

Features where HTML5 appears to be lacking when compared to Flash include a complete lack of support for Internet Explorer 8 and prior versions of IE, with IE 9 having a 56% support rate for the eight tested features. The eight features which were tested in HTML5 for the level of support are: 2D drawing (Canvas), Native 3D (WebGL2), SVG, Video, Audio, Filter Effects, File API, and Socket Connections.

Chrome version 17+ has the highest support rate for eight tested HTML5 features with 94% success, and Firefox version 10+ came in second with an 88% success rate. Third place was taken by Safari 5.1+ with a 75% success, and the final browser tested was IE9 at 56% success rate for the eight HTML5 features.

Is the HTML5 vs. Flash debate really a valid discussion? Was this all just a marketing ploy that Apple and Steve Jobs perpetrated as an alternative technology to the Adobe multimedia platform? The fact that Apple has embraced HTML5 as the open source web technology for their OS and web-enabled devices is no mistake; it meshes well with the exciting aspects of their technology and with the HTML5 Canvas and WebGL development in particular, which seems to show new and electrifying advancements on a daily basis for web developers. What effect does the "Apple / Flash" controversy have on either HTML5 or Flash? Maybe the argument comes down more to a new open web technology versus plug-in permitted software.

If you are in the gaming industry, then Flash is still your best friend, and for other web developers, incorporating more HTML5 into their websites and designs is still an exciting new technology with its own rewards. Seems to me that both sides of the "debate" are winners, and there really are no losers.

As HTML5 continues to gain ground in overall browser support, where do you see it in the next year or two? How about five years from now? If HTML5 continues to gain browser support at ten percent per year, do the math, and it will not be long before the technology will be supported across the browser spectrum.


Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal g...

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